Patrick Lefevere: reinventing Omega Pharma Quick Step for 2012
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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Patrick Lefevere: reinventing Omega Pharma Quick Step for 2012

by Ger Cromwell at 6:08 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling
 
“I think it was necessary to have some new air blow through the team”

Patrick LefevereOnce the ultimate Classics team, Patrick Lefevere’s former Quick Step squad has undergone a radical transformation this winter in an effort to improve its stage racing potential and also its status in the world rankings.

Attracting new title sponsors and ongoing financial backing from Czech billionaire Zdenek Bakala, Lefevere’s squad has not only rebranded itself as Omega Pharma Quick Step for 2012 but has also widened its focus and hired some of the top time trial and stage race specialists in the world this winter.

“I was a little bit embarrassed the last two years because if you look at the overall classification of the UCI, we were 17th, very near to dropping down a level, and I would prefer to retire than drop down a level,” says Belgian team boss Lefevere at the recent team presentation. “The first year we could say we were very unlucky, we had crashes and injuries. The second year, you say it again, but in your mind you know you cannot repeat this in the future.

“The sponsors, the fans, the press; nobody will accept this so I had to work very hard with my people to try and make the team stronger and I think this is a totally different team.”

Time trial world champion Tony Martin and six of his former HTC teammates including former world champion Bert Grabsch and stage race specialists the Velits brothers; Peter and Martin join forces with former Radioshack duo Levi Leipheimer and Michael Kwiatowski, plus a handful of other newcomers to transform the new Omega Pharma Quick Step squad into one with potential winners of every type of race.

“Without the budget, we had to rely on the present riders like Tom Boonen and Sylvain Chavanel too much but we had a lot of injuries in the team,” says Lefevere. “This year, I had the possibility to look around and we tried to build a stronger team. We also hired some new staff. I think it was necessary to have some new air blow through the team because I had to rely on myself a little bit too much and I was living too much in the past with the results.

“We were probably the best Classics team ever a few years ago but now we must focus on other races too. Of course the Tour de France was always important. It’s maybe too important. But I didn’t make the Tour so important, the riders did. We have a plan for the next three to five years so I hope to move up the world rankings. If you look at the budget of our team a good place would be fifth or sixth at the end of the year but we will see, you need some luck too.”

Of the new signings, Tony Martin is the one most people are looking at in terms of being a potential Tour winner, whilst the Velits brothers and Belgian Kevin de Weert have also been mentioned. However Lefevre shrugs off the suggestions for 2012 at least. “Tony is signed for three years,” he says. “He says himself that in two or three years he will try to get results in the Tour de France. Maybe we have a future Tour winner on the team for the first time but it is very early to tell. Kevin de Weert will never win the Tour de France, he knows this himself and I don’t blame him but he will have other goals too.

“Peter Velits has been third in the Vuelta when he was young so he can make some progression. I think bringing riders like Leipheimer and Tony into the team will help those guys if they think they are professional now, and I’m not saying they aren’t, because they are. But these guys are 110pc professional. They can bring some experience to the team. They can motivate the others and tell them if you watch this, do this, you can be better.”

A re-acquaintance with Specialized bikes is also something that Lefevere hopes will improve his riders’ chances of overall glory. “We had very good relationship with Specialized in the past and we are back working with each other for the next four years. We have new bikes, new technology. There is a lot of innovation in cycling for me, you know, I’m not a bike specialist. I’m more a bookkeeper. I forgot a little bit to invest in bikes and technology. Of course you need the budget and a good bike manufacturer too. We are also building a new training centre with the University of Leuven, with all the high-tech things we need. I think the combination of all those things will make this a team of the future.”

Speaking of the future, Lefevere ponders for a moment when asked his dark horse for the season, a rider on the team that may surprise people and go on to become a big star. “I always follow all the young riders,” he answered after that pause. “I was very surprised five years ago with Michael Kwiatkowksi and Peter Sagan. I tested both of them and also Boassen Hagen. Unfortunately I had to let them escape because I didn’t have the money to keep them. But Kwiatkowski is here now. I don’t think he will be a direct rival for Sagan because I think Peter is more explosive but Michael has a very good time trial in his legs. I hope for me that he will be the surprise of the year,” he laughs. “So that people understand that I know something about cycling!”
 

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